Snow carpeted Jerusalem and its holy places Thursday as a rare wintry storm swept across Israel and the Palestinian territories as well as the wider Middle East.

The cold snap, which has already caused major disruption in Athens and Istanbul, saw heavy snowfall in areas better known for their summer heat.

Snow covers Jerusalem's golden-topped Dome of the Rock as rare wintry weather sweeps across the Middle East Snow covers Jerusalem's golden-topped Dome of the Rock as rare wintry weather sweeps across the Middle East Photo: AFP / Menahem KAHANA

In the alleyways of Jerusalem's walled Old City, children pelted each other with slushy snowballs after the first flakes fell.

By morning, snow crowned the golden-tipped Dome of the Rock in the Al-Aqsa mosgue compound, Islam's third holiest site, and carpeted the esplanade in front of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site where Jews can pray.

Israel's meteorological service reported that between 15 and 25 centimetres (six and 10 inches) of snow had fallen overnight.

Jewish worshippers trudge though the snow in front of Jerusalem's Western Wall, Judaism's holiest place where Jews can pray Jewish worshippers trudge though the snow in front of Jerusalem's Western Wall, Judaism's holiest place where Jews can pray Photo: AFP / Menahem KAHANA

The main highways leading into Jerusalem from the north, south and west were all blocked on Thursday morning. Police said snowploughs had worked all night to clear roads inside the city.

In a country little used to such wintry conditions, few motorists have snow chains for their cars.

Schools in Jerusalem and northern Israel were closed, leaving children free to play in the snow.

The snow cover was not expected to last as warmer temperature were forecast in the coming days.

The Israel Electric Company reported that power consumption reached an all-time high overnight as Israels switched on the heating.

Snow also covered higher parts of the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority closed schools and some public services.